No Bulldog epitomized the feast-or-famine outlook on spring scrimmaging than QB Tyler Russell. The senior had some big numbers again, just as last Saturday, completing 21-of-39 passes for 258 yards. Four of his throws went for touchdowns, too…but another four ended up as interceptions. With the second team QB Sam Cowart was 8-of-15 for 142 yards and one touchdown.
It was a Johnson & Johnson afternoon as far as receiving statistics. Tight end Malcolm caught eight balls for 131 yards, though none went for a score. WR Robert did get in the end zone once, on seven catches for 109 yards.
WR Jameon Lewis had five catches for 34 yards, WR Joe Morrow 4 for 54 yards with a pair of touchdowns, and TE Brandon Hill three catches for 17 yards and a touchdown. Those were in first- and second-team series; in threes-on-threes WR Michael Carr stood out with his three grabs and 83 yards. And WR Jeremey Chappelle made his one touch good for a 39-yard scoring play.
Injuries in the first scrimmage left Mississippi State short-handed on running backs all week, and veterans LaDarius Perkins and Josh Robinson were both held-out Friday as well. That gave RB Derrick Milton a lot of work, 19 carries in all for 73 tough yards. His longest rush was for ten yards. And workhorse walk-on Kasey Akins had 12 rushes too, all against the backup defense, with 78 yards. He gained 51 of that in the first half alone.
The second half rushing belonged to WR Brandon Holloway, who this week added rushing to his practice duties. It worked well today as he carried 17 times for 83 yards. Six of his totes went for double-digit gains in fact. Though, just as in the first scrimmage, there were no rushing touchdowns today.
And the numbers of most offensive interest, reflecting best on the defense, were the third down numbers. The #1 offense was 3-of-9 in conversion situations; the #2 team only 2-of-14, though as noted later they did score on a fourth-down play.
With starting OLB Deontae Skinner sidelined by a leg injury suffered last Saturday, Mullen has mixed a lot of linebackers this week. One of the youngsters rose to this scrimmage occasion as Beniquez Brown had five tackles and a pair of interceptions, both off Russell. S Kendrick Market had the most tackles, seven, and S Quadry Antoine six with the second defense; while OLB Richie Brown had five total tackles and two quarterback hurries. CB Justin Cox also had five tackles and an interception, while CB Cedric Jiles got in on five stops. So did LB Matthew Wells who also had a hurry and shared a sack with DE Ryan Brown.
CB Will Redmond blitzed for a sack, and both #1 defensive ends Denico Autry and Preston Smith got a sack each. But it was DT Nick James on the #2 defense given credit, unofficially, for two sacks and his trademark dance-step.
The afternoon's first turnover came on the third snap as B.Brown, got in position for an interception and 21-yard return. The first offense didn't get going until their third series, starting on the 25-yard line going in. Russell threw to R.Johnson for 20 quick yards, and after a pass interference call on S Jay Hughes gave first down on the two. The offense came out with a fullback-I for one of the first times all spring, but it was fake; Russell threw to TE/FB Christian Holmes for the touchdown.
That gave the first offense some momentum for a longer scoring drive begun on a ten-yard burst by Milton. A 19-yard throw to M.Johnson had the ball on the defense's 36, where Russell had time to find R.Johnson behind CB Jamerson Love in the end zone.
PK Evan Sobiesk missed from 41 yards kicking into the wind, then going the same direction PK Devon Bell was good from 37 yards. The second offense had a turnover too when LB Chris Hughes stripped the ball after a completion. But they came back and on 4th-and-2 QB Josh hand flipped to Chappelle on the right sideline, for what became a 39-yard touchdown.
The third offense did have some fun against their #3 defensive counterparts. Carr had a 48-yard catch and run touchdown before halftime, and in QB Josh Hand also used Holmes for at two-yard scoring pass.
The second half was uglier for the offense. After moving out of the goal line for one first down, Russell was again picked off by B.Brown; and a series later in second-team competition Lewis fumbled on contact with J.Hughes after a completion with Cox recovering. Russell did score again as given time (i.e. no whistle on a likely sack) he rolled around and found Morrow for a 28-yard touchdown.
Russell converted on third-and-short with a 28-yard completion to M.Johnson, and immediately followed with a 15-yard touchdown play as Morrow made the corner catch despite interference. But he pushed his luck the next series, hanging a throw in the wind for Cox to intercept at the goal line.
The scrimmage ended with four ‘last play' plays from scripted distances. The first three failed. Russell had his throw from the 17-yard line broken up in the end zone by Redmond; from the 12 the pass for Lewis was intercepted by Love; and from the seven a throw at Lewis over the middle was high. Russell just decided to keep from the two-yard line and take advantage of his no-hit red uniform for the touchdown. Mullen also called for a one-yard, do-or-die play and behind Holmes' lead block Milton squirmed across the line.
PK Taylor Earhart doinked a field goal off the left upright, and Sobiesk missed his second chance of the day. In-between Bell was good from 45 yards using the wind this time, though he would miss a 48-yarder later on in the same direction.
In the second half Damien Robinson returned to #1 right tackle for several series; then moved to left tackle with the first team while starter Charles Siddoway returned.
No new injuries were noted Friday. Following the scrimmage Mullen gave some quick comments as follows.
A good day for the defense? "Parts were. In a scrimmage there's a lot of good and a lot of bad. I always say I guess you could look at some things and say boy that was really good. But a really good thing is a really bad thing elsewhere."
"The good things, (the defense) did a good job getting some pressure today. I don't know if that is good on the defense or poor on the O-line's part. We also got ran-by a whole bunch in the secondary. You can't have that, you know what I mean? I don't know if they were squatting on things or trying to make big plays. But you can't give up all the big plays we gave up on the defensive side of the ball."
Does that go for the turnovers too, six of them? "Well that was more sloppy. We're looking at a lot of sloppy offensive play, a lot of poor ball security. The defense, I didn't see any special plays. But that was a nice pick by (Jamerson) Love here at the end, that was a really nice play in that situation. The rest of it to me was guys with real poor ball security."
The offense had another slow start with some three-and-outs, did you see some similarities? "Yeah. We've got to watch the film and see where it's all at, what we're trying to get accomplished. Part of it too is we're trying to get a lot accomplished. Like, you have a list of what you want to on the film scrimmage-wise. So you might not be more game-oriented, which you kind-of are here in letting them play. You act like a game even though you might not be calling it on either side like a game."
A lot of young guys got first-team reps? "Well, part of that, I think you saw a lot of guys getting promoted up and trying to get reps and get rotated in with different groups. A lot of that, I just want to see who is going to be ready to play. Shoot, I'd like to have 85 guys ready to go play in the fall! That's probably unrealistic with guys still developing. But we've got to get guys in position that are going to be ready go to play."
Was the not-a-game play calling impact things like maybe the third-down conversions in scrimmages? "Yeah, I don't even know what they are. You guys keep all the stats, you know? Statistically in a scrimmage a lot of things get blown out of proportion sometimes because of the things you're trying to get accomplished. And boy, this looks really out of whack. In a game you might go a little more in one direction or another direction but you're not going to get all the things looked at that you want to get looked at."
Robert Johnson seems to have stepped forward? "He is. I think last week Jameon (Lewis) had a real good week, and this week Robert is having a real good week. So the development of those two, I think it is still finding that third big-time receiver for us is going to be a key deal as we keep moving forward."
Derrick Milton seems to be making the most of his opportunity? "He is! And then (Brandon) Holloway comes in and makes a few explosive plays and gets everybody kind of nervous over there. At the running back position, when you look at how slim that is right now, you get banged-up that way, that's part of all the things you take into. When I look at spring I want to see the film, you know what I mean? Are the guys we're counting on making the plays we need to make? That is a critical aspect of it."
What is the setup going into next week? "Tuesday and Thursday are going to be big, big days for us. And you know, the spring game is always going to be a big celebration day. We expect to have a huge crowd, we should have nice weather. And I love that situation because it puts some guys who haven't been under pressure before under pressure when they finally have to play in front of a big, sold-out stadium."
And you're giving them Saturday off, also as part of the coaching clinic? "Yeah, one with that clinic, but also to give them the opportunity now of a little bit of rest going into this final week."
What did you see from Tyler Russell today? "I'm disappointed in certain things. I think he missed some throws today, made some good plays today. Part of it is, with him I guess we're trying to get into the complete game management. Which is seeing things out on the field. We called two plays in the huddle, and all of a sudden they come out in a weird defense that is going to give you completely third play; his ability to snap! get to that and just improvise on his own on the field. So a lot of talking-through that stuff to him. I thought he did a good job. I just threw some random things out that we haven't really gone through before, to see how he can handle and in-game adjustment. And I thought he handled that really well. I was disappointed that he missed some throws."
Are you satisfied with his progression? "Oh yeah, I think he's done a really good job. I think just his approach to the whole deal is very mental. You can see here in spring I don't know that he's preparing himself to be game-ready because he doesn't have to play a game right now. I think he's preparing himself in all the big-picture things, and picking little things he can improve all the time. Now we have to translate that into getting ready for games in the fall."